The Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize For Discovery in Medical Research established in 2005 recognises discovery in medical research, by a researcher under 45 years of age, which makes a major contribution to the understanding or treatment of disease. It is awarded in alternate years at the University of Sydney and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The inaugural award in 2006 was made at the University of Sydney.
The 2017 SZCUF Prize for Discovery in Medical Research has been awarded to:
Senior lecturer, Head of a stem cell lab
The Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research
The Hebrew University
For his discovery and contribution in the field of Stem Cell Biology
Yossi Buganim received undergraduate degrees from Bar-Ilan University and a Ph.D. from Weizmann Institute of Science. As a postdoctoral fellow at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT, Dr. Buganim has exploited single-cell technologies along with bioinformatic approaches to shed light on the molecular mechanisms underlying somatic cell undergoing reprogramming to embryobic stem-like cells. Currently, his own lab, at the Hebrew University, is focused on multiple in vitro and in vivo somatic cell conversion models to allow the generation of multiple cell types for future clinical use.
Regenerative medicine is a new and developing field aimed at replacing engineering, regenerating or replacing human cells, tissues or organs, in order to establish or restore normal function. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have enormous potential in this area because they can differentiate into all cell types in the human body. However, two significant obstacles prevent their immediate use in medicine: ethical issues related to terminating human embryos, and rejection of foreign cells by the patient's immune system. The creation of ES-like cells from skin cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), resolved both issues.
Despite these cells’ enormous potential, their quality is still not sufficient to be used in clinical practice, and there is a need to find the best protocol that will enable production of high-quality iPSCs that would not pose endanger patients.
Dr. Buganim’s laboratory has made two major breakthroughs in this area, representing a major step forward in the field of regenerative medicine and transplantation.
In order to improve the quality of embryonic stem cells, Dr. Buganim and colleagues conducted bioinformatics analyses which pointed to four new key genes capable of creating iPSCs from skin cells, of superior quality to stem cells in current use. These cells produced in his laboratory (in this case mouse cells) are able to clone a whole mouse at a much higher percentage (80%) than other iPSCs (30%). This test is the most important one determine the quality of the cells.
Many women suffer recurrent miscarriages and abnormal placenta, which causes fetal growth restriction that might lead to mental retardation. Dr. Buganim’s lab found the key genes of the placenta stem cells and by expressing them in surplus in skin cells, created induced placental stem cells. These cells looked and behaved like natural placental stem cells. Various quality tests showed that these cells have cell-generating capability in a Petri dish and inside a placenta that develops following a transplant. The success of this project may enable women with placenta problems to give birth to healthy children.
Read more about Dr Buganim’s work here.
The Prize will be presented to Dr Buganim at a special event in Jerusalem in June 2017.
The 2017 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research, is sponsored by B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney
The next call for nominations for the 2018 Prize will be announced in September 2017. It will be for scientists working at the University of Sydney.
The 2016 SZCUF Prize for Discovery in Medical Research has been awarded to:
Professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research,
Melanoma Institute Australia, University of Sydney
Prof Long is a clinical researcher and medical oncologist and the author of over 120 peer-reviewed publications in clinical and translational research in melanoma since 2011. She was nominated for her extensive contributions to the field of melanoma research and clinical services.
Since 2009, she has grown a high quality medical oncology melanoma clinical service and trials team which utilises novel therapies and cutting-edge scientific research in an integrated and multi-disciplinary translational team.
Central to this work is her role as principal investigator for the Melanoma Institute Australia investigator-led TEAM study (Treat, Excise and Analyse Melanoma) which involves clinicians (surgery, medical oncology and pathology), cell biologists and molecular biologists.
The TEAM study is world-recognised as the proto-type for translational research, and has significantly contributed to the design of therapeutic strategies to improve the outcomes of patients with melanoma. For example, it was work undertaken under the TEAM protocol that showed, for the first time, that targeted therapies induce immune T cell infiltrates into melanoma tissue early during treatment.
This work has become the basis for at least five current international clinical trials combining targeted therapies with immunotherapies in melanoma. It is also critical for determining the combination of drugs that improve patient outcomes and has impacted clinical trial design significantly.
Read more about Prof Long’s work here.
The Prize will be presented to Prof Long at a special event in Sydney in late 2016.
The 2016 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize
for Discovery in Medical Research is sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation.
The next call for nominations for the 2017 Prize will be announced in September 2016. It will be for scientists working at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The 2015 SZCUF Prize for Discovery in Medical Research was awarded to Professor Assaf Friedler, Institute of Chemistry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Prof Friedler was nominated for his extensive and groundbreaking work focused on protein interactions as targets for drug design.
The major achievements of this work are two novel approaches for drug design that significantly expand the scope of potential drug targets and can be applied to a large variety of disease-related proteins. One of these approaches has been successfully demonstrated as a novel approach for anti-AIDS therapy.
The Prize was presented to Prof Friedler, in Jerusalem, in June 2015 during a ceremony which was part of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Hebrew University’s Board of Governors.
The 2015 Prize has been sponsored by B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney.
Further information about Prof Friedler's work can be found here.
The 2014 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research was shared by two Sydney University researchers, A/ Professor Anthony Gill and A/Professor Ostoja (Steve) Vucic.
A/ Prof Gill, Sydney Medical School, USYD and Royal North Shore Hospital was nominated for his contributions to our understanding of a number of gastrointestinal and renal cancers, including the discovery of hereditary components of some of these.
The discovery has led to the establishment of a low cost, widely available screening program which has resulted in hundreds of individuals with a hereditary cancer syndrome being diagnosed early (before they develop cancer) and at a stage at which early intervention is highly likely to lead to a cure and new treatment strategies.
Further information about Associate Professor Gill’s work can be found here.
A/Prof Ostoja (Steve) Vucic, Sydney Medical School, (Westmead) and Westmead Hospital, was nominated for his discovery of a unique mechanism underlying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disorder. His pioneering research has resulted in a significant advance in understanding ALS and formulation of novel therapeutic approaches, which are being translated into clinical trials. A/Prof Vucic also co-invented a much needed diagnostic technique for ALS currently being commercialized under the trade name MAGXCITE with commercial partner Magstim. This invention may provide earlier and more definite diagnosis of ALS so that currently available neuroprotective therapies could be instituted earlier potentially improving survival and quality of life in this devastating disorder.
Further information about Associate Professor Vucic’s work can be found here.
The 2014 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research was sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation.
The 2013 Prize was awarded to Associate Professor Eran Meshorer, Department of Genetics, The Institute of Life Sciences, Hebrew University
Associate Professor Meshorer was nominated for his work on how embryonic stem cells (ESCs) maintain their dual capacity to both self renew, and differentiate to all cell types. Many of his studies have focused on the role of chromatin in this process as he believes that understanding the mechanisms that regulate chromatin function will enable intelligent manipulations of embryonic stem cells in the future. He has said, "If we can apply this new understanding about the mechanisms that give embryonic stem cells their plasticity, then we can increase or decrease the dynamics of the proteins that bind DNA and thereby increase or decrease the cells' differentiation potential. This could expedite the use of embryonic stem cells in cell therapy and regenerative medicine, by enabling the creation of cells in the laboratory which could be implanted in humans to cure diseases characterized by cell death, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and other degenerative diseases."
Further information about Associate Professor Meshorer’s work can be found here.
The 2013 Award was sponsored by B’nai B’rith Lodge Sydney.
The 2012 Award was won by Associate Professor Barry Slobedman, Discipline of Infectious Diseases & Immunology, University of Sydney Centre for Virus Research and Westmead Millennium Institute.
Associate Professor Slobedman was nominated for discoveries which have profoundly changed our understanding of how the human cytomegalovirus (CMV) can persist in a dormant state for the life of the human host, despite the presence of a huge anti-viral immune response. He has shown that CMV actively avoids detection during its dormant state by adopting an altered form making it unrecognisable to the T-cells designed to fight it. This discovery provides a novel drug target for development of therapies to interrupt the dormant state of infection, and so limit or prevent the devastating consequences of reactivation from dormancy in immunocompromised individuals such as transplant patients.
In addition, these discoveries have great significance for unborn babies as, CMV is the number one infectious disease that occurs in the developing fetus during pregnancy. Though CMV has been rarely heard of, it can lead to interuterine death (stillbirth), or birth of babies with profound neurological defects, such as mental retardation and hearing loss. It causes more serious disease than Down Syndrome, neural tube defects such as spinal bifida, and fetal alcohol syndrome despite the fact that the pregnant women usually have no symptoms of infection, and so are oblivious to the damage being caused by this virus to their developing fetus.
Professor Slobedman’s discoveries may also lead to development of a live CMV vaccine. The potential of these discoveries for clinical applications has led to an international patent sponsored by Sydnovate, the commercial arm of the University of Sydney.
Further information about A/Prof Slobedman’s work can be found here.
The 2012 Award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Discovery in Medical Research was sponsored byThe Schwartz Foundation.
The award of the 2011 Prize was shared by two scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
Dr Eli Pikarsky, Hadassah Medical School and Assoc Prof Sigal Ben-Yehuda, Faculty of Medicine.
Dr Pikarsky was nominated for insights gained from his work in complex mouse models, into the development of human diseases. In particular, his work has yielded new understanding of the determinants of malignancy in testicular cancer; of the impact of inflammation on the progress of liver cancer and the regulation of liver regeneration, important in all conditions which damage liver function.
Assoc Prof Ben-Yehuda was nominated for her contributions to our understanding of the biology of bacteria. Her discoveries, which include the demonstration of a previously unknown ‘nanotube’ form of communication between cells, are also fundamental for understanding the mechanisms of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This gives her work great importance for the treatment of infections caused by the growing number of resistant bacteria.
This is the first time the award was shared between two nominees. In awarding the Prize to be shared between the two scientists, the Prize Committee noted the impressive contributions both scientists had made to our understanding of complex and difficult diseases.
The 2010 Award to Dr Rachel Codd, Discipline of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney was presented by Dr Jerry Schwartz of The Schwartz Foundation, sponsor of the 2010 award of the Prize at a luncheon jointly hosted by the Fund and the NSW Friends of the Hebrew University.
Dr Codd was nominated for the development of a range of compounds that may be effective in treating iron overload disease with orally administrable drugs compared with current therapy requiring intravenous infusion. The compounds may also have application in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, where irregular iron levels have been implicated as contributing factors.
Further information about Dr Codd’s work can be found here or by contacting the Fund's office.
The 2010 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize
for Discovery in Medical Research was sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation.
In June 2009 the Award was presented to:
Dr Adi Mizrachi
Department of Neurobiology
The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr Mizrachi was nominated for his contribution to the understanding of synapse formation (nerve connections) in the central nervous system (CNS), and for the importance of his group's findings for the development of techniques of CNS repair. These new approaches developed by Dr Mizrachi's team are essential steps towards therapies which will allow the regeneration of brain structures from stem cell technology
The significance of Dr Mizrachi's work has been acknowledged by its publication and citation in many highly ranked journals, and by invitations to present his findings at many international conferences.
Further information about Dr Mizrachi's work can be found here and here or by contacting the Fund's office.
The 2008 Award to Dr Catherine Leamey, Discipline of Physiology,
School of Medical Sciences, University of Sydney was presented by Mr Malcolm Turnbull, MP at a special event in November 2008 which also celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Fund’s inception.
Dr Leamey ‘s work was nominated for the identification of a gene, Ten_m3, which is essential for binocular vision and which has been shown to have important implications for the development of therapies for both visual and developmental brain disorders such as autism and mental retardation The award to Dr Leamey recognises the potential of her findings to aid in the development of new approaches in the treatment of these conditions.
Further information on Dr Leamey's project can be found here or by contacting the Fund's office.
The 2008 award of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize
for Discovery in Medical Research was sponsored by The Schwartz Foundation.
In June 2007 the Award was presented to Professor Nir Friedman from the School of Engineering and Computer Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Friedman is a leading expert in the field of machine learning and its application to biology. Machine learning is the prime tool in the analysis of the vast array of genomic data made available by the completion of the Human Genome Project.
Professor Friedman's work was selected for its broad application to many fields of medicine. He was the first recipient of the Prize at the Hebrew University.
Read about Professor Friedman's work
The inaugural award of the Prize was made in August 2006 to Mr Mark Elkins, Research Physiotherapist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney who, at the time of the award, was a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney. His award-winning research established a new, low-cost, long-term therapy for cystic fibrosis through a multi-centre, randomised, clinical trial.
Read more about the project